GOP bill would change WI child custody, support laws - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

GOP bill would change WI child custody, support laws

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Father's rights groups are fighting to change the way courts rule in child custody and child support cases.  And they've gotten the attention of some Republican lawmakers.

Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) authored Assembly Bill 540, which seeks to establish a presumption in the law that equal placement with each parent is in the best interest of a child after a divorce.

"Now, that doesn't mean it has to be equal," explained Keith Wessel, a family law attorney in Madison.  "The parents can do whatever they want and the court is not going to enter an order for equal placement if there are serious problems with either parent."

Wessel says that's already what happens in most custody cases, but there are exceptions.  He points to one of his clients that only got 36 percent custody of his child, despite being a stellar father.

"There was really no basis that I could determine why he should be confined to that amount.  And he ended up spending $15-20,000 on litigation to get 42 percent," said Wessel.

"Its not really in the best interest of children to have a one-size fits all statute that does say you must equalize, unless....," countered Daphne Webb, a family law attorney with the Stafford Rosenbaum firm of Madison.

Webb not only questions the custody provision of he bill, but also the portions that impact child support.  She says a provision that says the payment of health insurance premiums should count towards child support is problematic.

"There's no corollary," explained Webb.  "If the payee is providing the health insurance, there's nothing in there that that person would get dollar for dollar reimbursement for what they're paying for health insurance." 

Webb also has problems with a provision that would cap the income that is subject to child support payments at $150,000.

"Hey, if the boat is rising, the children's boat should rise also along with the parent that has the good fortune to be making the money," said Webb.

A final provision of the bill would require courts to revise a child support agreement, if the parent paying the support experiences a loss of income due to unforeseen circumstance like a loss of job or illness.

"I think it's problematic that we've become bound to things that are unforeseeable," said Wessel.

Rep. Kleefisch did not make himself available for comment on this story, but his spokesperson confirmed Kleefisch decided to author the legislation after meetings with several father's rights groups, including Dads of Wisconsin.

The bill has been referred to the Assembly Committee on Family Law, but has yet to be scheduled for a public hearing. 

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MADISON (WKOW) -- An Assembly bill authored by Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) proposes significant changes to Wisconsin child custody and child support law.

AB 540 would establish an "equal placement provision" in child custody cases.  That provision would make it clear to judges that they must try to place children for an equal amount of time with each parent, but would stop short of mandating that.

The bill would also change the way child support is calculated.  After determining a parent's child support payments, a judge would have to deduct from that total the amount of money the parent pays for the child's health insurance premiums.

The bill also seeks to prohibit court orders that set minimum future child support payment amounts, so that if a parent experiences a job loss or illness, they won't be held to a monthly payment they cannot afford.

Capitol Bureau Chief Greg Neumann will have more on this story on 27 News at 5 and 6.

 

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